Long Island is located in Casco Bay a few miles from the Portland mainland. It takes about 45 minutes by ferry to get to the island, and once there, it is a different world. To me, Long Island looks like someone took my home town of Norway and dropped it in the middle of the ocean – it’s all winding country roads, strange stone buildings, and little houses.
I turned 32 this past Tuesday, and all I wanted was to “get away” – just go off on my own and clear my head. I have a long standing birthday tradition where I try to go see something older than myself. I also like to do something I wasn’t able to do a half-lifetime ago. Both of these things were easily accomplished on the way to Long Island. The ferry passes (well, you can see it) the oldest lighthouse in Maine (Portland Headlight, completed in 1791 at the behest of George Washington, but you knew that). As for the “doing something I couldn’t do a half-lifetime ago”, well, it isn’t like I was allowed to take a solo ferry ride on a Tuesday afternoon when I was 16 (and don’t worry mom, I was far too bland to run away to Portland on weekdays at 16. Now 17, that’s a different story…)
I took an interest in Long Island a few summers ago when I was contracted to do a bit of digitization for the 1924 Portland Tax Record Project. I was enamored with the black and white photographs of cabins and docks. What fascinated me most though was the fact that, in 1992, Long Islanders revolted against the City of Portland (yes, the technical term for an intended secession is “revolt” and I can’t help but swell with the sort of pride that only someone who had nothing to do with this can swell with) and seceded. The town of Long Island was officially established on July 1, 1993. Why did the residents of Long Island revolt? Well, dear reader, I’m glad you asked.
Long Islanders voted to secede from the City of Portland because they felt that their contributions to the City were “under appreciated”. I’m sure that the “contributions” referenced in various historical articles and documents were of the financial variety, but you bet your bottom dollar some of those “contributions” were creative and philosophical as well. Now, you should know by now that I’m no expert on local history – I’m a dabbler, and my interests are limited and specific. In 1993 I was barely 10 years old, and I didn’t have secession on the brain. Honestly, I was probably thinking more about Monty Python and Little Women. OK, fine. I didn’t even know there WAS a Long Island in Maine until 2013. I’m the worst kind of Mainer (seriously).
Year ‘round residents of Long Island believed that ever-increasing property taxes would eventually price them out, and sooner rather than later. I’d be out of my depth if I started talking money and taxes here, so I’ll just leave you to the Google-rabbit hole that will inevitably lead you to two decades of articles from all over the country. People love a good secession story – independent spirit and all of that. There’s also that familiar hint of “well, that’s just Maine being Maine” that we’re all used to, but in this case, I’ll take it as there isn’t a hint of Vaseline to be found.
What those articles will also tell you is that, 20 years after the revolt, Islanders are happy. Things are going well. They stood up for what they wanted, and they got it. In other words, they’re living the lives they want to live independently. Beyond that, while the population of Long Island more than quadruples in the summer, they don’t exactly cater to tourists. I may be a mainland interloper, but I really, really love that about Long Island.
I stepped off the ferry this past Tuesday, an inch-thick SPF paste on my fragile city skin and found exactly what I was looking for: A place I could just be for a bit. A place where I didn’t have to think about the rest of the world, and I could just contemplate “32”. What I found is that It’s exactly like before, except for now I just answer to myself.